In times of Amazon and Alibaba, it is increasingly important for medium-sized B2B retailers to also position themselves digitally if they want to prevail against the big players in the long term. So far, however, only 16 percent of medium-sized B2B companies are active in online retailing. However, the potential would more than exist. B2B e-commerce sales in Germany are expected to rise from 40.2 billion euros in 2018 to 46.3 billion euros in 2019. The total sales volume in B2B is around 80 trillion euros (!) and is thus twenty times higher than B2B online sales. So there's still plenty of room for improvement. However, B2B retailers face more than one challenge when it comes to implementation.
B2B customers are usually more demanding than B2C customers. On the one hand, this is because they usually want to purchase larger quantities of goods. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for B2B trade to involve goods that require explanation. These require a lot of time and close contact with the customer. This, of course, makes reliable and competent customer service indispensable. B2B customers already receive precisely this customer service when they shop at Amazon Business. This is especially bad for medium-sized B2B retailers, because they, too, should somehow be able to keep up with Amazon in the future.
###Performance of the 100 largest German online stores
Challenges in B2B online retail
There are several challenges and hurdles that B2B retailers must overcome in order to succeed online.
1. Skepticism among decision-makers
Often the implementation of B2B online trading fails due to the skepticism of the decision makers involved. Especially in sales, doubts accumulate. What happens to the sales force, for example? Will they become superfluous if customers only buy their goods online? How can online sales be linked to the existing IT infrastructure? Decision-makers ask themselves these and other questions and try to weigh up whether the effort is worthwhile for them or not. Valuable time is lost as a result, of course.
All decision-makers should be involved in the digitization process right from the start. Through regular exchange, open questions and existing doubts can be addressed and a solution found for each problem. The skeptics must be made aware that digitization brings more advantages than disadvantages and that their jobs will not be endangered as a result. This means taking doubts away first and holding factual discussions until an appropriate solution has been found for everyone involved.
2. Demand of the target group
Probably one of the biggest differences between B2B and B2C lies in the definition of the target group. In B2C, private individuals are addressed, whereas in B2B the focus is on business customers. In addition, the target group in B2B is usually smaller, but more demanding. This is often because, as already mentioned, this customer group wants to buy larger quantities of goods as well as goods that require explanation.
Business customers should be addressed and looked after personally. Close customer loyalty is an advantage here. Business customers with high volumes of goods in particular expect impeccable support and advice at the time of purchase, but also afterwards. The after-sales phase must not be overlooked here. Many products from the B2B sector require regular maintenance.
3. Inadequate e-commerce strategy
For many B2B retailers, digitization already fails when it comes to setting up a suitable e-commerce strategy. For example, should the entire product range be offered online or only some of the merchandise? How can the field sales force and online sales be linked at best? What laws must be observed and complied with when it comes to digital sales in the B2B sector? Discussions about this eat up a lot of time that could also be used more sensibly.
Here, it is important that experts from all affected areas are involved in building the e-commerce strategy. Only in this way can digitization be implemented successfully. However, this does not mean that all topics should be discussed to the bitter end. A strategic timetable is advantageous here. Which issues should be resolved by when? Who is the main person responsible for which area and by when do they have to complete certain tasks? Only in this way can the strategy be successfully implemented in the end.
Customer relationships in B2B online retailing come first
The B2C sector is of perceived as a mass market. In contrast, B2B is a different story. The relationship that B2B retailers usually build with their customers offline, via telephone or in person, must not be lost in e-commerce. However, online retailers should pay attention and consider the entire customer journey - from the order to shipping and returns. But how can B2B retailers maintain the relationship with their customers even after the order has been placed? The answer is quite simple: through individual and proactive shipping messages. This is the only way to build a bond with the customer. Communication with the customer must not stop after the order has been sent, because shipping is the key to customer loyalty.
###See shipping messages in action!
It is important to note that B2B retailers should not enter the online business at any cost. However, they should also keep in mind that close customer contact is essential in B2B - online as well as offline. Nevertheless, implementing a digitization strategy requires detailed time and strategic planning. However, medium-sized companies in particular must not miss the boat on digitization. After all, there is enormous potential in this area, which is otherwise exploited at worst by large companies such as Amazon or Alibaba.